Art by Sarah Jim.
Photo by April Bencze.

The restoration and conservation funding landscape of the Lower Fraser River

We would like to acknowledge and thank the many individuals and organizations who have provided their information to help us build a picture of the funding landscape of the Lower Fraser Region. 

The restoration and conservation funding landscape of the Lower Fraser River
September 2022 | ISBN: 978-1-9993892-5-3
By Kristen Walters, with support from Misty MacDuffee, Dave Scott and Chris Genovali.
Art by Sarah Jim.

Report cover of The restoration and conservation funding landscape of the Lower Fraser River.
Art by Sarah Jim.

Executive summary

The Fraser River is the largest river on Canada’s West Coast with a watershed that drains over one quarter of British Columbia (BC). Historically, it was considered the greatest salmon producing river in the world. All the salmon that spawn in the Fraser watershed use the Lower Fraser River and estuary as a migration corridor, with many also relying on this area for spawning and rearing. 

In Raincoast’s 2020 report, Toward a Vision for Salmon Habitat in the Lower Fraser River, we highlighted the current state of salmon and their habitat in the Lower Fraser River, as well as the cumulative threats to their resilience. We also shared the ‘vision’ that communities and individuals of the Lower Fraser Region have identified for salmon habitat over the next 100 years. We concluded with recommendations that we believe will put salmon and their habitats on a path towards recovery and long-term resilience. This included a recommendation to increase funding for collaborative conservation and restoration efforts, and to prioritize funding for Indigenous-led restoration and conservation initiatives.1

To advance this recommendation, we have been supporting Indigenous-led and science-based restoration and conservation efforts in the Lower Fraser region. This includes collaborating with the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance (LFFA) to identify sources of sustainable funding that could support the Indigenous-led Climate Adaptation and Habitat Restoration Strategy, and with individual Nations to support the recovery of wild salmon populations through habitat restoration and related efforts. 

Due to the ecological, economic, and cultural importance of salmon populations in the Lower Fraser River, a variety of funding agencies and organizations have invested resources into restoring salmon habitat over the past several decades. However, to date we have not identified a resource that has quantitatively examined and collated the extent of funding invested in the Lower Fraser River region. This report examines the scale and scope of resources that were invested in aquatic, estuarine, floodplain, and riparian habitat restoration (hereafter referred to as ‘habitat restoration’), conservation projects, and habitat-related activities from 2009 to 2019, prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our goal is that by analyzing this timeframe, we will provide valuable information for both investors and practitioners regarding the flow of resources and the activities they supported prior to the significant economic impacts that occurred with the onset of the global pandemic.2

Scale and scope

1. Scale of investment – What was the total value of investments in habitat restoration, conservation, and habitat-related projects in the Lower Fraser region over the last decade?

2. Funding sources – Were the investments from the federal, provincial, regional, municipal, charitable, NGO, and/or private sectors?

3. Investment focus – What type of activity did the investment support? Categories include: habitat creation, habitat enhancement, habitat restoration, fish passage, planning, research, habitat monitoring, habitat assessment, habitat maintenance, land acquisition, habitat compensation, habitat offsetting, and stewardship projects. 

Indigenous engagement

4. Indigenous engagement – Did funding agencies require Indigenous engagement for applicants to be considered for funding? What was the scale of funding provided to Indigenous Nations or Indigenous-led organizations either as direct recipients or project partners?

Rationale and post-project monitoring 

5. Funding program rationale – What was the primary rationale for the investment? Categories include: supporting species recovery, compensation for lost habitat in other developments, fulfilling a legislated requirement, or aiming to engage community members in stewardship projects.

6. Ecological goals and objectives – Did the program provide quantitative ecological goals or objectives for projects to measure their success?

7. Post-project monitoring –  Did the funding program require post-project habitat monitoring to determine success of efforts? 

Current state of knowledge: the scale and scope of investment

Scale of investment 

In the Lower Fraser region from 2009 to 2019, we found that at least $91.6 million was invested from both federal and non-federal sectors to support 482 habitat restoration, conservation, and other habitat-related projects. The federal government was the most significant funder, with $59.4 million provided across 12 funding programs.

From governments in the non-federal sector, a total of $31.7 million from 30 funding programs was provided for habitat restoration, conservation, and habitat-related activities in the Lower Fraser region from 2009 to 2019. A breakdown of these funds provided according to sector is provided in Figure 1.

Figure 1.  Scale of total funding ($91.6 million) provided over the last ten years (2009 to 2019) in the Lower Fraser region.

Scope of investment 

Within the ten year timeframe, 482 habitat restoration projects received $39.9 million (43%), which is the largest investment among the habitat-related activities we examined. Other habitat-related activities that received significant investments include habitat compensation ($16.1 million or 17%) and stewardship ($8.9 million or 10%). Figure 2 demonstrates the percent of funding provided for all habitat-related activities according to federal and non-federal sectors. 

Figure 2. Percent of funding provided by either the federal government or non-federal. Sectors that comprise the non-federal category include: provincial, regional and municipal governments, charities, NGOs, and private donors.

Scale of Indigenous support and engagement

Of the $91.6 million invested in habitat restoration, conservation, and habitat-related activities in the Lower Fraser region from 2009 to 2019, $18 million (approximately 20%) went to Indigenous Nations or Indigenous-led organizations as either direct recipients or project partners.

Increasingly, organizations are encouraged to engage or partner with Nations and Indigenous-led organizations to ensure that their projects are informed by, and inclusive of, Indigenous priorities. However, the extent to which funding programs across sectors required applicants to engage with Nations was not clear. We found that while there are no explicit requirements for applicants to engage or partner with Indigenous Nations, many programs in the federal and non-federal sectors do expressly encourage applicants to collaborate with Indigenous communities in their work. As this analysis occurred over a ten-year period from 2009 to 2019, we would like to note that the requirement to engage Nations is shifting, which is reflected in current applications for several of the funding programs outlined in this report. 

Investment rationale

To determine the underlying motivation for investments in habitat restoration, conservation and related activities, we assessed each funding program ‘rationale’ based on a standardized set of criteria. Funding program rationale categories included accommodation, economic, ecological, legislative, social, or a combination of two or more rationales. According to our criteria, 69% of federally funded programs had ecological and social rationales. Examples include funding the improvement of habitat to meet the recovery needs of Species at Risk Act (SARA)-listed species (ecological) and providing social benefits to the community by engaging the public in stewardship projects (social). 

Among non-federal funding programs, we found that the rationale of programs could be identified according to their sector. The primary rationale for funding provided by various charities was social and ecological. Funding programs from regional governments, such as Metro Vancouver, primarily focused on ecological, social, economic, and/or accommodation rationales. 

Presence of ecological goals and objectives 

We found that most federal funding programs had clear ecological goals and objectives that underpinned the program and guided the selection of projects. Out of the 12 total programs, nine programs (75%) had at least one quantifiable objective that funded projects were expected to work towards. For example, the Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk (CNFASAR) aimed to improve freshwater and tidal habitat quality for SARA-listed and COSEWIC-assessed species by supporting restoration and stewardship activities. Examples of these activities include improving water flow, sediment control, light pollution, and riparian habitat quality1.

Among non-federal programs, we found that 61% of programs had clear, measurable ecological goals and objectives. For example, the City of Vancouver measured the amount of natural habitat (hectares) restored. Similarly, the City of Surrey’s Salmon Habitat Restoration Program measured the extent of restoration and enhancement of fish-bearing aquatic habitat by riparian vegetation restoration and water quality testing.

Post-project monitoring requirements

Conducting post-project habitat monitoring after the completion of restoration, compensation or habitat-related projects is critical to determining effectiveness. From our analysis, we found that no federal funding programs explicitly required post-project monitoring for grantee habitat restoration projects. Only the regional government of Metro Vancouver, and the cities of North Vancouver, Burnaby, Delta, Surrey,  and Maple Ridge explicitly require post-project habitat monitoring.

Salmon egg icon by Sarah Jim, bright red.

Recommendations

1) Scale of funding required for ecological resilience

1.1a Increased funding provided for planning and staff capacity

Healthy watersheds provide the foundation of ecological, climate, and social resilience. We recommend that all sectors of funders increase the scale of resources available to conservation funding in the Lower Fraser, beginning with funding project planning phases. Specifically, major funders should first provide resources for initial project design and scoping, in addition to a secondary investment for project implementation. Further, we recommend that an increased scale of resources be made available for staff capacity to conduct collaborative planning processes in order to enable habitat restoration and conservation projects to be ‘shovel-ready’. 

1.1b Sustainable funding and finance mechanisms 

To provide resources at a scale that enables long-term delivery of projects, we recommend that fiscal tools, such as an endowment fund, be assessed, considered and implemented in the Lower Fraser region with financial support from all levels of government. 

1.1c Centralized access to funding information 

We recommend project investment information be methodically kept and centralized in a database so that the information can be easily accessed by funders and the public to determine the most effective way of investing money and to provide transparency. This centralized database should be managed by provincial or regional governments to track the scale of funding that is being spent on habitat restoration and conservation initiatives in their jurisdiction. 

1.1d Transition towards a community-informed approach

We recommend that funding for habitat restoration and conservation be informed by Indigenous Nations, regional conservation organizations, and  community stewardship groups that are actively implementing projects.

Further, we recommend that the scale of resources provided for Indigenous Nations, Indigenous-led organizations, and regionally and community-based conservation organizations increase, particularly in large-scale funds such as federal government budgets. This would support the transition away from a piecemeal funding scheme towards a paradigm that is grounded in community engagement and input.

1.2) Scale of support for Indigenous Nations and level of engagement

1.2a Accessibility of funding and increased support for Indigenous capacity building 

We recommend that funders increase resources available for Indigenous Nations to build internal capacity so that communities can increasingly secure and sustain financial and human resources for restoration and stewardship activities. 

We recommend that funding programs engage Indigenous Nations to ensure that grants for habitat restoration and associated activities are available to, and informed by, the interests and priorities of Indigenous communities and Indigenous-led organizations. 

1.2b Increased funding for post-project monitoring

We recommend that funders consider the potential for Indigenous Guardians to deliver long-term post-project monitoring within their traditional territories to measure project success. This effort can be informed and guided by Indigenous Knowledge and academic science, resulting in an increased capacity for and understanding of the technical, financial, and cultural resources that can support Guardianship programs. Youth engagement is critical and of high importance to Indigenous communities and post-project monitoring can provide an opportunity for youth to spend time on the land and measure the outcomes of habitat-related initiatives.

2) Presence of clear ecological goals and objectives 

2.1 Inclusion of ecological goals and objectives in funding programs and a regional plan

We recommend that detailed, quantitative ecological goals be included in funding programs at both the federal and non-federal levels to ensure that projects are guided by objectives that can determine project success. These objectives should be coordinated with broader ecological goals outlined in an overarching regional plan that will help guide funding program investments and provide a benchmark to measure success. 

3) Post-project monitoring requirement

3.1 Require post-project habitat monitoring and increase scale of available resources 

We recommend that funders include science-based post-project monitoring of habitat restoration and associated projects as a required activity for applicants and that funders increase the scale of funding available to conduct such activity. 

We recommend that long-term post-project monitoring be supported across funding agencies. This monitoring will enable recipients to adequately determine if habitat restoration and associated activities were successful over the long-term and may provide further opportunities to enable Indigenous stewardship.

4) Collaboration, coordination and governance

4.1 A legislated Fraser Watershed Plan 

We recommend that Indigenous and non-Indigenous government agencies, in coordination with ENGOs, academics and independent scientists, consider a legislated watershed plan for the entire Fraser River watershed as a vehicle to secure and guide investment with clear social, economic, and ecological goals and objectives. Siloed policy implementation and disjointed conservation outcomes need to be avoided to ensure maximum cooperation, collaboration, and coordination in pursuing and achieving holistic system-wide solutions. 

4.2 An overarching management plan for the Lower Fraser River and Estuary 

We recommend developing and implementing an overarching management plan for the Lower Fraser River with clear ecological goals that align funding priorities and agendas, ensure Indigenous engagement, and facilitate long-term science-based monitoring. This plan should be informed by the priorities of Indigenous Nations, conservation organizations, community groups, industry, academics, levels of government, and funders to increase coordination of efforts. Funding and fiscal mechanisms, such as an endowment fund, could help scale investments and ensure the sustainability of projects guided by the plan. 

5) Funding for the future of the Lower Fraser region: how much is enough?

Although $91.6 million was invested in habitat restoration and habitat-related activities from 2009 to 2019, the scale and scope of this funding may not have been sufficient for the task. Recent research into the amount of resources required to recover species at-risk in the Lower Fraser River and Estuary may shed light on the investment needed to restore the ecological resilience of the region. 

The current ‘business as usual model’ will result in <50% probability of persistence for two-thirds of the 102 species at-risk in the Fraser Estuary. However, the probability of persistence increases to over 50% when all 10 management strategies assessed in the study are implemented at a cost of $381 million dollars over 25 years, or $15 million dollars annually at $6.00 per person in Greater Vancouver. When a co-governance structure that includes Indigenous Nations and other governments collaborates to oversee the application of a conservation management plan, the probability of species persistence increases to 65% over the next 25 years. Notably, the cost-effectiveness of recovering these species increased and additional conservation strategies required to achieve species recovery decreased. This translates to a reduced scale of investment by up to one-third. 

Increased buy-in from the provincial and federal governments

In March 2021, the provincial government implemented the Healthy Waters Initiative as part of the British Columbia Economic Recovery Plan, which provided $27 million in support of 60 watershed initiatives across British Columbia to restore ecosystems, advance economic recovery, and generate 750 jobs after the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent report by the Delphi Group and the University of Victoria’s POLIS Waters Sustainability Project quantified the economic and employment contribution provided by the watershed sector2 in BC in terms of indirect and direct benefits, induced jobs and GDP. Furthermore, the watershed sector generated more jobs and GDP than the agricultural sector and supported comparable levels of employment to the mining, oil, and gas sectors. 

As a sub-sector, Watershed Management and Restoration provides 4,200 jobs and contributes $432 million to the GDP. Additionally, for every $1 invested in flood mitigation efforts, an estimated $7 to $10 is saved in recovery efforts after a natural disaster6. Given the clear economic importance of the watershed sector, there is an opportunity for the provincial government to leverage their $27 million stimulus investment to further support growth of this sector. To do this, the study proposed a Watershed Security Fund that provides an annual $100 million investment, which can leverage further investments, support the advancement of the sector, create 13,000 more jobs, and contribute an additional $1.3 billion to the provincial GDP.

In addition to the $27 million investment by the province, the federal government outlined the $647 million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI), which aims to reduce the decline of salmon populations by investing in a suite of restoration and conservation initiatives. Details on the PSSI, and the scope of work that will be supported, are unknown at this time. While this increase in short-term funding may benefit wild salmon recovery, restoring the resilience of these habitats will require a systemic shift in the funding paradigm over the coming decades to ensure true sustainability. 

Moving forward

Given the ecological state of habitat in the Lower Fraser region, the cumulative threats to salmon populations, and a rapidly changing climate, there is a clear need to increase salmon conservation investments that are informed by Inigenous priorities, have measurable ecological goals, and are supported by long-term monitoring outlined in a regional plan. Using Priority Threat Management research, the economic quantification of the watershed sector, and the $91.6 million identified in this report, there is an opportunity to identify the scale of resources needed to support long term habitat-related efforts that will help put salmon populations and their habitats on the path towards recovery.

Our intention is that the information provided in this report and corresponding recommendations act as a guide for funders to identify resource gaps, and opportunities for increased coordination and collaboration. We hope it can be of benefit to those with an interest in restoring the ecological resilience of the Lower Fraser River and Estuary. 

Illustration of the Lower Fraser River and Estuary, by Sarah Jim.
Art by Sarah Jim.

Our thanks 

We would like to acknowledge and thank the many individuals and organizations who have provided their information to help us build a picture of the funding landscape of the Lower Fraser Region. We also thank our funders, the Vancouver Foundation, Bullitt Foundation, Sitka Foundation and the Real Estate Foundation of BC who have made this work possible.

Footnotes

  1. Read the 2020 report, Toward a Vision for Salmon Habitat.
  2. Accommodation activities are those that compensate for negative effects previously incurred to habitats.